A SWEDISH LAPLAND STORY

Chad chose Abisko

Photo: Chad Blakley

Text: Håkan Stenlund

In 2008 photographer Chad Blakley moved to Abisko to work the summer season. He followed the love of his life: Linnea. They both quickly fell for the breath-taking landscape and the welcoming people in the village. So, Chad and Linnea decided to stay the winter as well. But it would be many more summers and winters in Abisko.

Chad Blakely’s interest in photography began at an early age. As a teenager, he worked for a local newspaper in a small town outside New Orleans, Louisiana. During his college years, he started a small company and photographed weddings and graduating students. But even if he really liked the technical aspect of photography, he quickly got tired of taking pictures of the same things.
– I put my camera on the shelf and thought my days behind the lens were probably over, Chad says, sitting on the porch of the sauna by lake Torneträsk in Abisko.
– But this particular place changed all that. Nearly ten years ago.

chad, 1920 x 1080
At a party in his hometown, something incredible happened: a young girl from Sweden suddenly came into the party and the two were introduced. A year later, to the day, they got married in Arkansas.

One season in Abisko

Chad was tired of photography and of school as well, in fact. He dropped out of school and made a living through various jobs. At a party in his hometown, something incredible happened: a young girl from Sweden suddenly came into the party and the two were introduced. A year later, to the day, they got married in Arkansas.
– I wanted to get to know Linnea’s culture and native country a little bit better. So, I resigned from my job in the US and moved to a small town far up north in Sweden, Abisko, to start cleaning bathrooms at STF Abisko Turiststation, he says and laughs.

The idea was that they would stay in Abisko for the season and then move on. In those days, in 2008, Abisko was still a fairly undiscovered place with some activity during summer, but rather quiet in winter.
– I was very happy to get that opportunity. I spent my days cleaning and, in the afternoons, when I had time off, I explored the surroundings in the national park.

Chad and Linnea started to sense a deeper love for the place as they discovered the area and nature. They started feeling a desire to experience it during winter as well.
– One day I simply asked Linnea if we could stay the winter, just so see what it would look like, says Chad.

abisko, 1920 x 720

Winter vibes

Chad and Linnea started to sense a deeper love for the place as they discovered the area and nature. They started feeling a desire to experience it during winter as well.

The first aurora

After some travelling during autumn, they returned to Abisko just in time for the winter season. Chad was looking forward to his new job: he had been promoted from bathroom cleaner to afternoon dishwasher. That meant he got to ski all day and work in the evenings, then just go home.

One evening after work, on his way home, he saw a strange green glow in the sky. At the time, Abisko was not known as a northern light paradise yet, so he did not understand straight away what it was he was watching. But after a couple of minutes, the green glow transformed into northern lights filling the entire sky and that is when he understood the logic of it all. Far north, above the Arctic Circle, and green lights in the sky:
– Boom, I suddenly realised that I was witnessing the first Aurora Borealis of my life.

"Boom, I suddenly realised that I was witnessing the first Aurora Borealis of my life."

– Chad Blakley

Life changing experience

There were lots of things that changed his life that evening. Something inside of him changed from that moment on. He became addicted to the northern lights that instant and felt compelled to learn how to take photos of it, so he could share it with the rest of the world.
– That evening, as I went to bed, my head was so full of thoughts about what had happened that I couldn’t go to sleep. There was no doubt in my mind, I needed to see more of it.
– I was so keen on capturing the lights with a camera, but I faced a major dilemma: I had no digital camera – or money to buy one.

Chad decided to get a second job to save up for a small camera that would let him take photos of the lights. A family friend came to the rescue, offering him a job at a mustard company. He worked for a few weeks, filling mustard jars, just to save up for the cheapest Nikon DSLR available at the time. The rest is somehow an even more amazing story.

omslag abisko and the northern lights, 1920 x 720

Lights over Lapland

Chad and Linnea started Lights over Lapland. They were going to sell guided northern lights tours. The first evening he went out with a group of eight guests, they came down to the same boathouse we are visiting today. Chad had a good feeling and set up his camera to do a time-lapse of the evening. What he did not know was that the strongest northern lights in years and years would appear that evening. When he uploaded his video to the company’s Facebook page that night, which had all of 11 followers, National Geographic picked it up. Before he knew it, he was on the phone with every well-known international press and media agency imaginable. Everyone wanted to know more about the northern lights in Abisko. The rest is, as they say: history.

Since that evening, Chad and his guides at Lights over Lapland have spent thousands of hours outdoors, taking photos of the star- and northern-light filled the sky above Abisko national park in the company of guests from all over the world. As far as Chad is concerned, there is no doubt about it:
– That video and that evening helped us put Abisko on the map as the best place in the world to see the northern lights.

Learn how to photograph the northern lights

Chad and Linnea Blakely run the company Lights over Lapland, offering northern lights photography experiences, courses in landscape photography and winter activities like snowmobiling, dog sledding, etc. More information can be found at lightsoverlapland.com.